Phones Are Smarter Than Ever, But Are We?


Tyler Cowen points me to a Washington Post story today about the fact that lots of people are confused by computers. Today, though, the computers are really small and we call them smartphones:

For [old fogies], there is nothing intuitive at all about manipulating data with their fingers, whether it be swiping screens back and forth, pinching to shrink an image, or entering information into glass. They typically worry that doing something wrong on the phone will cause it to self-combust.

This has always been the big problem with computers for non-power users: the fear of doing something that will screw everything up. Generally speaking, it’s overblown, and most people would be better off experimenting a bit more. Still, it’s hardly a trivial concern. I’ve been using computers for more than three decades, and even now I’m occasionally nonplussed by hitting some key combination or other that puts my computer into an unknown mode that I don’t know how to get out of. Thank God for Google, which almost always answers my questions.

Other issues aren’t nearly as mysterious as the Post thinks. A Harris Poll, for example shows that “just 5 percent of Americans used their smartphones to show codes for movie admission or to show an airline boarding pass.” That’s not surprising. A fairly small percentage of Americans fly or go to the movies regularly, and there’s really not much point in trying to figure out how to do something with your smartphone unless you do it a lot. Besides, getting a boarding pass or buying a movie ticket isn’t that hard in the first place. And what if your battery goes dead?

Anyway, I’m just the opposite. I’m thinking of getting a new phone, and although there are some good reasons for this (bigger screen, free tethering, etc.), it’s mostly just because I’m bored with my iPhone and I want to try something new. How about a Nokia Windows phone? My Windows tablet has turned out to be better than I expected, so maybe I should get on the bleeding edge and try it on my phone. T-Mobile will sign me up for $50 per month with a bunch of nifty features, and that would put me on the bleeding edge again since I have no idea if T-Mobile coverage is any good. But life is always better with a soupçon of risk and danger. Besides, screaming at your computer is very cathartic, isn’t it?

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate